PICKUP

By Dave Allen

The redhead sat at the darkened end of the bar nursing a rum and Coke. Young men and women filled the room behind her, shooting darts and playing pool, mixing, mingling and pairing off. A constant cloud of sawdust hung in the air. From the jukebox, Garth Brooks sang about friends in low places.

She took a long drag from her cigarette and watched the scene unfold in the mirror that hung over the liquor shelves. She exhaled slowly, smoke swirling briefly in the air before dissipating. The bartender walked towards her and dropped a poker chip by her glass. “Guy over there wants to buy you a drink,” he said, nodding towards the other end of the bar.

“Thanks, Tom.” He walked away and she lifted the chip with long manicured nails. Looking around, she saw a man seated about halfway down the bar. He was of average height, wore thick glasses and sported a receding hairline. What was the word her ex used for guys like that? Yeah, nebbish. Had to be an accountant or some kind of office zombie. In his hand was a beer, bottled. He raised his drink to her and waited for a response. She took another puff and stared at the ceiling for several seconds. She finally crushed the butt into the ashtray. “Whisky sour,” she told the bartender, then nodded to the stranger. He picked up his beer and slid onto the stool next to her.

“Nice evening, isn’t it?”

“Yup.”

Tom the Bartender brought her whisky; she lifted it towards the stranger. “Thanks for the drink. I’m Ruth. Cheers.”

He clinked his bottle against her glass. “Nice to meet you, Ruth. I’m Satan.”

Ruth swung her stool around until she faced him. “Just wonderful, we’ve got both ends covered tonight.”

“What do you mean?”

She nodded towards a figure sitting at a table on the other side of the pool table. “See that cowboy over there? He thinks he’s God’s gift to women.” She swung back around and stared ahead.

He shifted uncomfortably on his seat. “I am Satan, you know.”

“Mmm-hmmm.”

She fished a cigarette from her pocketbook and put it to her lips. Before she could pick up her lighter, he raised his index finger; a small flame shot up from the end. She leaned towards the fire and took a deep puff. She held it briefly before exhaling. “Ok, maybe you are Satan. What are you doing in this neck of the woods?”

“I came out for the stock car races down the road.”

“No offense, but do you always look like… this?”

Satan smiled. “I try not to draw attention to myself when I’m out.”

“It works.”

He leaned forward, both elbows on the bar, two hands wrapped around the beer. He unconsciously picked at the label with his thumbnail, and watched as she sipped her drink. “So… come here often?”

She closed her eyes and sighed. When she looked back up he was still there, staring at her.

Garth finished singing and the jukebox went silent. “Give me a dollar,” she said, without looking directly at him. He fished out a wrinkled bill from his pocket. She grabbed it and walked over to the jukebox, meandering through the selections before punching in the code for two Alan Jackson songs, from memory.

Satan was still there when she returned.  “So tell me,” she said. “What’s Hell really like?”

His eyes opened wide and he smiled. “It’s fascinating, really. You know, a lot of people think it’s in the center of the earth, but it’s not. It’s actually a different dimension kind of thing. It’s like a big pit; there’s a lot of rocks and fire and stuff. For our guests, it’s kind of like being the pig at the luau.” He giggled at his own joke. Ruth took the end of her straw and stirred it; the maraschino disappeared under ice cubes. She looked into the mirror, studying the cowboy’s reflection.

“…and the torture isn’t all physical; a lot of it’s psychological and emotional. We get you from every angle.”

“Sounds like a good spot for my ex,” she muttered.

“You have an ex?”

“Yeah.”

“Kids?

“One.”

“Same here. He’s in college now. Harvard, actually.”

“Gonna be a doctor or something?”

“No, Antichrist.”

“That’s nice.” She took another puff from the cigarette and leaned it into the ashtray. Tom wandered over and asked if either of them wanted another drink. Last chance, he reminded them; bar closes in ten minutes. Satan ordered another beer and offered to cover one more for Ruth, but she declined.

Ruth finished her drink and sat the empty glass next to her ashtray. She tapped her nails on the counter and softly sang along with the music. Satan fidgeted in his seat, staring down at his bottle.

Finally, he looked up at Ruth. “Hey, want to see something really neat?” She looked over. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small marble, cupping it with his hands. As she watched, it grew to the size of a small snow globe, and she could make out figures swirling around within. Squinting, she tried to focus on the scene.

“Souls of the damned,” said Satan. “I keep it with me so I can check in every now and then, when I get bored. You want to hold it?”

She bit her lip and thought about it. “Better not. I might break it.” He shrugged and returned the globe to his pocket. Above, lights flickered on and off; closing time. The crowd began filtering out into the parking lot.

Satan took a final drink from his beer and looked at Ruth. “Umm, I don’t want to seem pushy, but if you’re not doing anything else, I… umm… have a room at the motel across the road…”

Ruth stared intently at Satan for several seconds, then crushed out her cigarette. “What the Hell,” she said. She grabbed her purse and hopped off the barstool. “Let’s go.”

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